Sacrificing the “Little Darlings”

As a writer, it can be difficult to make those edits that you know are necessary to tighten your writing. As an editor, it can be painful to suggest such cuts to an author. Every author has “little darlings”–precious lines that simply make a writer sigh, delighted and satisfied with having written them.

But it is these very little darlings that should be cruelly stricken from your manuscript, scrapped for the sake of the whole. “Oh, I agree, this needs some editing,” an author might say, “but I can’t lose this line. I just can’t.” It’s too precious. Just as a writer must be willing to kill off the protagonist, so must the author be willing to sacrifice those precious lines.

As a writer, I can be cruel with myself, scolding and badgering, forcing myself to see my writing weaknesses and shortcuts. As an editor, it is my job (when I am doing content editing) to make writers see the same weaknesses and shortcuts in their manuscripts. But, with them,  I can’t be cruel. I must use tact and gentleness to persuade them of the truth. It’s what they pay me for. It’s what their writing needs. But it isn’t easy for either of us.

A recent client clung adamantly to three lines in her book, despite my reasoning and admonitions. It wasn’t until two other people entered the discussion that she finally admitted that those lines had to go: they were a slap in the face to the reader, completely out of character for the narrator and, thus, jarring for the reader.

Any lines that place the author at the forefront of the page must be stricken. Authors must remain invisible, and should certainly never rear up their heads and shout, Look at me, look what I wrote!

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